I regret and am embarrassed to report that the socio-drama in which I participated did not give me the healing I wanted. It only took me deeper into my grief, and left me untouched by the empathy that opened up for more than one of my friends, who could simultaneously see the terrorist in themselves and summon compassion.
Our group had selected a headline about ISIS from among five story banners in the morning’s New York Times. Our highly skilled facilitator then had us establish a time and place: we settled on Grand Central Station, 2:00 on a Friday afternoon. Roles were assigned: a shopkeeper, a cop, a businessman, a little girl on her way to see her first Broadway show with her mom, a terrorist. I watched as the players got into role, the shifts in body language, facial expression, as they moved through the space. Every once in a while, the facilitator invited our questions for the characters.
The story played out: the cop confronted the terrorist, shot him, detonating his explosive vest, raining havoc and death, and drawing forth strength and compassion among the walking wounded.
Here is the cop’s story: I’d only been on the job a week, I didn’t want to move in on him too fast. I didn’t want to fall into profiling him and overreacting. And the terrorist’s: my people, they are getting killed, I have to do something.
Here’s (some of) my story:
I can’t solve suicide bombings.
I can’t solve evil. Even we can’t solve evil.
I hope I never get to the end of my grief.
I know my own rage can rise up with a killing strength and desire in the face of the most mundane challenge.
I struggle with helplessness, despite the true and simple guidance I was gifted with by mentor Michael Broom nearly 30 years ago: You’re not helpless, you know.
I struggle to answer the question periodically posed to me: what is worth dying for?
I can delve into the dark history of racism and engage in education, in protest, in community action and turn away from inquiring into my own tribe’s history of pogroms – one of which drove my grandfather from his Polish village and then to America at a young age. From inquiring into the Holocaust, though my husband fled Germany for England in his mother’s arms just before his first birthday. From inquiring into the rise of anti-Semitism.
Amazingly, wonderfully, I can still be true to a life of practice, true to my imperfect humanity:
I have permission to be a fool and a wise woman.
I have built up some muscle for turning directly toward what terrifies me, and a passel of teachers, friends, and fellow-travelers to encourage me.
I can keep engaging, keep listening, keep wrestling with myself about when and how to speak up in my life, in the life of my city, my country, my world.
I can even love the healing I got – the one I needed – which points me right at the inner work at hand.